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Is Emotional Abuse Grounds for Divorce in SC?

Is emotional abuse grounds for divorce in SC? What about mental abuse?

In SC, anyone can get a divorce if they have lived separate and apart for a full year. But you can get a divorce faster if your spouse is physically assaulting you, if they are cheating on you, or if they are habitually drunk or addicted to drugs.

What do you if you are subjected to extreme emotional and mental abuse?

Currently, under SC law, you must wait for one year before you can get a divorce from an emotionally or mentally abusive spouse - a proposed bill in SC would change that:

Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, cosponsor of the bill, said by recognizing that physical and mental cruelty is another grounds for divorce, the state would allow people to file for divorce and leave a spouse within a shorter period of time.

"There are situations where there is not necessarily physical abuse but there's emotional abuse and that is something that I think we've really come to recognize as a society," Powers Norrell said. "There's nothing in our law that shortens the wait period for a divorce when you have a situation of emotional abuse or just where you can't stay together anymore."

What about physical or sexual abuse of a child? If your spouse is abusing your child, that is also not grounds for divorce in SC - another proposed bill would change that as well.

H3231 - Proposed SC Bill Would Make Emotional Abuse Grounds for Divorce in SC

The proposed bill would cover situations of emotional abuse or mental abuse that "destroys the well-being, happiness, and welfare of a spouse and renders continued cohabitation unsafe or unendurable:"


Being trapped in a marriage with a spouse who beats you or who is constantly drunk is a dangerous and untenable situation, especially when there are also children present - this is why physical cruelty and habitual drunkenness are fault-based grounds for divorce in SC.

The proposed law recognizes that there are times when emotional and mental abuse can be as harmful as physical abuse and provides a way out, allowing an abused spouse to end the relationship and finalize a divorce more quickly:

In South Carolina, a fault-based divorce allows people to get a divorce within at least three months of applying, Norrell said. By changing the law to allow consideration of the mental well-being of a spouse, it would help expedite getting out of a bad situation, she said.

"There are a lot of ways to be cruel that don't just involve physical contact, and I strongly believe that people should be able to get a divorce on those grounds as well as the other grounds we have in South Carolina for divorce," Norrell said.

Under current SC law, a spouse who is suffering severe emotional or mental abuse must wait one year to file for a no-fault divorce, as if the abuse is not happening...

What are the grounds for divorce under current SC law?

Grounds for Divorce in SC do not Cover Emotional or Mental Abuse

SC law currently allows only four fault-based grounds for divorce:

  • Desertion - when your spouse has abandoned you and not returned for at least one year;
  • Adultery;
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug addiction; and
  • Physical cruelty.

As a practical matter, there are only three fault based grounds for divorce that allow you to finalize your divorce more quickly - if your spouse has deserted you for a year or more, you must still wait for a year as if you are getting a no-fault divorce.

Is Physical or Sexual Abuse of a Child Grounds for Divorce in SC?

Another "loophole" that could be fixed is the absence of child abuse as grounds for divorce. Currently, if your spouse is physically or sexually abusing your child, that is not grounds for divorce.

Like spouses who are suffering severe emotional or mental abuse, spouses whose children are being abused must wait for one year before they can finalize a no-fault divorce.

Another proposed law would add "physical or sexual child abuse" as an additional ground for divorce:

SECTION 1. Section 20-3-10 of the 1976 Code is amended to read:

"Section 20-3-10. No divorce from the bonds of matrimony shall be granted except upon one or more of the following grounds, to wit:

(1) adultery;

(2) desertion for a period of one year;

(3) physical cruelty;

(4) habitual drunkenness; provided, that this ground shall be construed to include habitual drunkenness caused by the use of any narcotic drug; or

(5) physical or sexual child abuse; or

(6) on the application of either party if and when the husband and wife have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of one year. A plea of res judicata or of recrimination with respect to any other provision of this section shall not be a bar to either party obtaining a divorce on this ground."

Although the proposed bill to add emotional abuse as grounds for divorce has gotten more media attention, the ability to ask for a fault-based divorce on grounds of physical or sexual child abuse seems just as important.

We will continue to monitor these and other proposed laws that may affect our domestic law clients and keep you informed.

Got Axelrod?

If you are considering separation or divorce from your spouse, talk to your Myrtle Beach divorce attorney on the Axelrod team as soon as possible. .

Call now at (843) 916-9300 or fill out our contact form to speak with a Myrtle Beach divorce attorney in SC today.

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